LIKE EVERY wine enthusiast out there, I am fascinated by wine gadgets and accessories — from the Vinturi wine aerator, stemless crystal glasses, to handcrafted decanters — but none of these impresses me more than the Coravin wine preservation system.
I first came across Coravin on a trip to Hong Kong a few years back, but only saw its actual demonstration in Malaysia earlier this year. Coravin is a modern scientific wine preservation system that basically has the same application as the large and bulky Italian made Enomatic wine dispensing machine (and a few other similar brands), but packaged in a portable and cooler looking device. I was very fortunate to be given the chance to interview the inventor and founder, American Greg Lambrecht in Hong Kong.
WHAT IS CORAVIN?
Coravin is a high-tech wine preservation device that uses a hollow needle (similar to an epidural needle) which is inserted through the cork, even with the foil capsule intact, to pour the wine out, while the bottle is simultaneously filled with pure argon gas to prevent oxidation. Once the needle is removed from the bottle, the cork reseals and the wine can be preserved as if it was never opened. Replacement argon gas capsules are sold separately when the device’s build-in argon gas is used up.
The Coravin name — as founder and Paul Rudd (Marvel’s Antman) look-alike Greg Lambrecht enlightened me — is a portmanteau of two Latin words: “cor” which means “heart,” and “vin” which means “wine.” Greg sees Coravin as the heart of wine, because the heart of enjoying wine is to have variety. The Coravin device allows wine drinkers to drink portions of the wine without committing to finishing the whole bottle. Therefore, at any given time, with Coravin a wine consumer can open a few bottles of different wines and drink only a glass or half a glass of one bottle and switch to another bottle without worrying about the wines losing their luster when saved for another day of drinking.
HOW WAS CORAVIN INVENTED?
“The idea for this invention got hatched when my wife decided to give up drinking wine, and I love wines but now I have no one to share a bottle with at home. I feel that this is an unmet need that many wine drinkers are faced with. It makes no sense for a person to finish a whole bottle when all he or she wants is to have a glass or two,” Greg recalled.
And very fortunate for all of us wine lovers, Greg Lambrecht had the technical background to make this happen. Greg worked in the medical field all his professional career. Early in his career, he was working on a chemotherapy delivery system that was implanted underneath the skin using needles. The needle was used to deliver chemotherapy repeatedly to an affected cancer area over a long period of time. This is basically how Coravin works, Greg explained. “You look at our needle, it is closed at the end, holes cut on the side, so it doesn’t remove material while it pierces and dilates the cork. And because corks are elastic, it closes again. The elasticity of the cork remains the same, sealing against the glass bottle after use.”
It did take around 11 years before the Coravin idea came to fruition. Greg admitted working on this idea in his basement at night, while his daytime was spent on his medical business. He tried several different gasses and needles, and was able to make his first prototype as early as 2003. It was in 2013 that Coravin was officially launched in the US market, and the company has grown rapidly since, with Coravin penetrating Europe, and most recently the Asia Pacific region just two years ago. Greg still runs both his medical company and Coravin.
MORE VERSATILE USAGE
Personally, Coravin seems like a lot more than a wine preservation system. Coravin replaces the foil cutter, the corkscrew, the pourer, and any wine preservation system that is available, whether it be the wine pump, the inert gas can, or even the big dispensing machines. It therefore makes a lot of sense for Coravin to be used in on-premise establishments, wherein now a very stiffly priced premium wine can be offered by the glass, without worry that the wine will get oxidized.
This is exactly the same purpose of the Enomatic machines, but with more flexibility. As mentioned in a previous column on wine dispensing and presevation machines, I have been saying all along that the nature of physically replacing a finished bottle in a wine dispensing machine is too much of a hassle that is, sadly, not rectifiable. With the Coravin system, you not only save space as the gadget can be removed from the bottle after each use, but, if needed, the bottle can be brought straight to the table for pouring in the customer’s full view. Aesthetically the Enomatic machine looks more stylish and can complement any nice interior, but functionally, the Coravin can do the same job at better efficiency, not to mention, at much better price. I saw Coravin being used in the Okada Casino Hotel, and more hotels and restaurants in Metro Manila would surely follow soon.
TWO SIGNIFICANT ADDITIONS
When I met Greg I had two concerns about Coravin, both of which I was surprised to find out were already addressed by his company.
The first one involved aeration. As we all know, many of the full-bodied, high-tannin wines need time to breathe before being enjoyed, thus the use of decanters or even the Vinturi aerator. Immediately Greg proudly showed me the Coravin Aerator, an accessory that can be attached to a Coravin device that looks like a faucet shower-head adapter. Greg demonstrated the aerator, which he called his coolest invention to date, and it was like a beautiful sprinkler in action.
“Aeration is a factor of time and surface area, and by increasing surface area, you accelerate aeration exponentially. What we did was we created small holes spaced around the diameter and broke the single stream into 24 streams. We can still alter the diameter, the droplet size, the number of streams if needed,” he added.
My second concern was Coravin’s usefulness with screw-capped wines since this closure is not made from cork, and, voila, Coravin had already created the Coravin Screw Cap, which is made with self-sealing silicone and can be used to replace any screw caps in wine bottles. The Coravin Screw Cap can be conveniently used with any Coravin devices.
With such top-notch R&D always searching for user benefits, and Greg’s indefatigable energy and vision, Coravin will keep on improving. Their newest version, the Coravin Model Eleven, is their best model to date. This comes after the 2nd generation Coravin Model Two. The Coravin Model Eleven has a sleeker look and comes with a light ring that will turn green when the wine has been penetrated by the needle and is ready to pour. And by gently tipping the bottle, the wine will automatically pour. Coravin Model Eleven also provides two pouring options for a full glass or a smaller sampling portion. The Coravin Model Eleven retails just slightly below $1,000 per unit.
THE LAST HURDLE
I was planning to bring a Coravin back home from Hong Kong, where the Coravin system’s manufacturer is located (the needles come from the US, and argon gas comes from Austria), as presumably it would be cheaper — but I was told that because Coravin contains gas, it was prohibited from being hand-carried or checked-in when traveling. I heard that even in the US where Coravin is from, you are not allowed to fly with the device unless the argon capsule is removed. According to the Coravin founder, the company is still working with the airlines, the countries, and even the TSA to see how this can be addressed.
Argon gas is actually non-flammable, non-toxic, and even odorless, but, as Greg pointed out, justifiably, there is no way for airport authorities to really know what is inside the Coravin capsule that says argon gas unless they puncture it or have some gas detector machine. So this one is still a work in process.
While I am one of the strongest advocates of wine being a social drink, meant for sharing, and therefore a bottle should be drunk with friends, there are also moments that I want to be a bit selfish. Sometimes, I just want to savor my Chateau Haut-Brion 1990 half a glass at a time, till it vanishes into oblivion.
The author has been a member of the Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux or FIJEV since 2010. For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, and other wine-related concerns, e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also on Twitter at twitter.com/sherwinlao.